AI hearing leaves Washington with 3 big questions

ChatGPT founder calls on Senate to regulate AI || Screenshot POLITICO

MOHAR CHATTERJEE

POLITICO

Celebrity tech CEO Sam Altman of OpenAI made his debut appearance before Congress Tuesday, alongside two other artificial intelligence experts, for three hours of questioning on how Washington should regulate the rapidly developing technology.

CEO hearings can be pure political theater, but this morning the Senate quickly delved into the nitty-gritty of policymaking — and Altman himself pitched ideas for regulating the industry.

Fueling the Senate Judiciary subcommittee’s inquisition on AI oversight was the desire not to repeat the mistakes of the past, where Congress has been criticized for being too hands-off, such as with social media.

As with most hearings, the session offered more questions than answers — the biggest, of course, being whether Congress has any stomach for regulating a new industry at all.

Here are three big unknowns that now hang over Washington’s efforts to control a profound and disruptive new technology.

Do we need a new federal agency?

Surprisingly, this one may have bipartisan support. Senate Judiciary Chair Sen. Dick Durbin suggested the need for a new agency dedicated to overseeing the development of artificial intelligence — possibly an international one. “We’re dealing with innovation that doesn’t necessarily have a boundary. We may create a great U.S. agency — and I hope that we do — that may have jurisdiction over U.S. corporations and U.S. activity that doesn’t have a thing to do with what’s gonna bombard us from outside,” he said.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, chimed in by backing the idea of an agency that would issue licenses for powerful new AI tools.

For his part, Altman was on board with both the agency and the licensing idea during the hearing — and says he’s looking globally, not just nationally, for regulations.

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